I love the haunts and fantasy of the Halloween season, but every now and then, when we’re bombarded by the endless “Halloween Headquarters” costume and props sales from competing retailers, to the elaborate haunted attractions, we need to depart from the spooks and celebrate the harvests and colors of fall.
One of the ways we do this in our family is making a trip to one of our three regional corn mazes. Corn Mazes America estimated that as of 2008, there were more than 800 corn mazes in the United States alone, many privately designed. This number continues to rise.
Growing up in the far West Texas desert, the idea of a corn maze seemed faraway. It was something we only saw in seasonal magazines. In the past couple of decades, regional farmland owners have taken advantage of our fertile southwest valleys and built their own corn maze attractions.
We’ve visited at least one of these local mazes nearly every season since our oldest daughter was barely able to walk, and it is something we still in enjoy. Here’s what keeps us going back:
Getting “Lost” in the Maze
The most obvious reason to visit a corn maze is the maze itself. These large-scale nature craft creations change each season, and the process or designing, planting, and grown them often begins as early as July.
The maze we visited this year, Mesilla Valley Maze in Southern New Mexico, offers a little “scavenger hunt” with agriculture and nature related trivia hidden throughout the design. This year’s focused on the importance of bees to the natural world.
What I love about it is it gives our family a chance to work together on a shared goal (figuring out where we are and navigating the maze), as well as time to just stroll and talk without a million distractions. We’ve gotten turned around and wandered off course, but we’ve never gotten lost to the point of being stressed. It’s a fun kind of challenge, not a frightening one.
Many mazes have surrounding areas that feel like a trip back in time to an “old-fashioned” country fair. There are slides built in the sides of hills, “hobbit” holes to crawl through, rubber duck races with water pumps and PVC pipes, lasso-making stations, and other hands-on activities. None of these needed hi-tech help.
This year, we enjoyed a new “farmer’s golf” activity using large rubber playground balls we had to hit with mallets through a series of hand-built obstacles into a large bucket buried in the ground. My family agreed we all stank equally at that activity, entertaining as it was.
Even the more “modern” amenities we’ve noticed are practical and unique. The many water fountains on the maze grounds we visited were built on the edge of the flowerbeds, so the excess water ran down into the flowers to help water the landscape. Creativity and sustainability on one package.
Colors of Fall
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the décor and dress-up of the season, we forget to look around at just how beautiful autumn can be in many places. When we’re at a corn maze, we see bright orange, green, and yellow pumpkin and squash varieties, the tall green cornstalks against the blue skies, wooden walls covered with honeysuckle vines, and a variety of fall flowers such as asters, sunflowers, and some cosmos.
In our area of the country, the changing leaves come a little later in the season, but if we hit an the maze at the right time, it is spectacular. A well-run corn maze can contain much of the colors of fall within the boundaries of their grounds.
The “Pick-Your-Own” Produce
Like many corn mazes, ours includes the hayride to the pumpkin patch. We didn’t get to hit it this year, but every time we have our kids love being able to find a pumpkin right out of the patch. At our maze, at least, these pumpkins can be purchased at a fraction of the cost of ones we get in a store, and it helps everyone remember the where our produce comes from.
Another area maze opens its farm area a couple of weeks before the maze itself opens, so visitors can pick late summer and early fall squash and other produce.
Trips to our corn maze reminds us the importance of the family farm and agriculture industry, even when we forget about it within the concrete boundaries of the big city.
Festivals and Family events
In addition to the regular weekend offerings, many mazes host extra events, including “haunted maze” nights, farmer’s markets, or fall festivals.
The maze we visited closed the weekend before Halloween, and ended with a huge Pumpkin Festival, complete with contests and special food items.
Some mazes remain open at into the first or second week of November, giving people something fun to do in between Halloween and Thanksgiving.
By the end of most maze seasons, the maze itself can get pretty tramped down, so maze owners will create incentives to bring people out during the final weekends, like reduced entrance rates or live music.
One of our local mazes opens the maze up to friendly, leashed pets for a “Bring Your Dog To The Maze” event on its final day of the season. We’re planning trying this event out someday, as well.
Those who need to escape the rush and obligations between the haunts and the holidays should get lost in a maze somewhere. It brings out the best of autumn, and often, the best in ourselves.